John Granato: It's time for a change in the NCAA transfer rules

John Granato: It's time for a change in the NCAA transfer rules
Baker Mayfield should be able to make money off his jersey sales. Brett Deering/Getty Images

In his introductory Titan’s press conference Mike Vrabel made the huge mistake of saying something we all knew already but has rarely been spoken by anyone in the NFL in public:

College football is the NFL’s farm system.

And water’s wet. And the sky is blue.

That dirty little secret is something an NFL coach should never utter in public. Now every millionaire college coach is going to be asked about the slave mentality of a system that makes billions in revenue yet won’t pay its players.

It’s a system that allows that millionaire coach to go make millions more at another institution even though he may have multiple years left on his contract, but a player who wants to transfer to that same school has to sit out a year before he can play there for free.

It’s a system that will allow a swimmer, volleyball player or tennis player to transfer anywhere and play the following season but the basketball and football player have to sit out a year before they can play again.

It’s a system that allows a millionaire coach to take another job in his conference or even at his school’s arch rival but that same coach can block a player from transferring to any school for any reason.

It’s a system that allows a student with an academic scholarship to make as much money in any endeavor he/she chooses but the athlete on scholarship can’t have a job or benefit in any way from his/her relative fame.

But it’s also a system that will change.

I spoke to a high ranking official at the NCAA and he said

there is a lot of discussion that appears to be gaining momentum among coaches, athletic directors, conference officials and presidents. The system is broken and archaic. It needs a face lift.

For starters there’s an inherent inequality amongst scholarship athletes. For the most part, non-revenue sports student-athletes can transfer without the penalty of having to sit a year while football and basketball players have to sit a year before they can play again.

There are three proposals for change that are the most popular right now:

  1. Any athlete in any sport who transfers sits a year.

  2. One free transfer for every athlete.

  3. Any athlete that has good academic standing and is on course to graduate can transfer as long as the transfer will not set the athlete’s graduation back.

The third option is gaining steam but there is the fear that this option will have socioeconomic consequences. Kids that come from richer backgrounds with better educational facilities will have a leg up on kids who grow up in tougher circumstances.

Some will say “that’s life” but should the NCAA penalize the kids who didn’t have the same educational advantages as others? That’s something that will be discussed before they adopt this rule.

I’m betting that point will be a stickler for many and they’ll adopt the first option where everyone in every sport will sit a year. It’s the kind of move that has made the NCAA what it is today; scared of its own shadow.

While that will change, the draft policy will not. If a basketball or football player decides to enter the draft and doesn’t get drafted he can no longer participate at the NCAA level. My question has always been “Why?”

In baseball, not only can you come back if you don’t get drafted, you can be the top pick in the draft and still play the following college season. It is a huge bargaining chip for the player in contract negotiations. Why is this not an option for the basketball and football player?

The NCAA’s argument is that it makes it tough on the coaches in those sports with scholarship limitations to know who will be back and who won’t be.

Football has 85 scholarships. Basketball has 13. Baseball has 11.7. How come the baseball coach can manage his roster while the other coaches can’t?

The other issue is that when a player goes into draft mode he normally puts school behind him. He’s done with college. It’s tough to prepare for the combine and workouts and still keep academic standing.

There’s also the agent issue. Once a player signs with an agent he’s ineligible to play college ball.

To me though, if he keeps his grades up, stays on course to graduate and doesn’t sign with an agent, let that athlete play college ball and continue his college education. It’ll be the rare student-athlete that can do something like that so reward him for it. Don’t take away his dream.

I’m sure the NFL and NBA would hate a rule like that. They don’t want the player to have any leverage. I know MLB hates it. But the NCAA isn’t here to please those leagues. Screw ‘em. The NFL and NBA have a free farm system in college football and basketball. Make ‘em squirm.

Then there’s the dumbest, most asinine, most egregious rule of all: a coach’s ability to block a player from transferring to another school. No one has been able to explain this one to me.

This actually happened almost five years ago: Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt decided to leave the school and play elsewhere.

Here’s what SB Nation reported on May 17, 2013:

The school has restricted Lunt from transferring to any school in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big 12, per Zack Kerker, sports director at 1450 AM in Illinois. Lunt also won't be allowed to transfer to Southern Mississippi, where his former offensive coordinator Todd Monken is now the head coach, per Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports. Central Michigan, a future opponent of Oklahoma State, is also reportedly on the blocked list, according to Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World.That's 37 schools.


There is no logical explanation for this kind of limitation on the kid. A block of an intra-conference transfer is at least a little understandable. A coach doesn’t want to play one of his former players every year. OK. I get that. It’s BS but I get it. Mike Gundy could take the job at his arch rival OU and no one would say a word but not a player. No sir. That would be an unfair advantage. It’s a load of crap.

Right now the NCAA leaves it up to the conferences to decide their “block” policy. Some conferences will allow you to transfer within the conference but you have to sit two years. Again. Outrageous.

The NCAA needs to grow a pair and tell the conferences that they can only block a player from transferring within his own conference and it can only be a year. And that’s it. No other school should be off limits for a transfer.

And finally should the student-athlete be paid? Full disclosure: I have a son playing college football. Of course I’d love for him to get paid. What parent wouldn’t?

All players get stipends now to cover the cost of living. That’s relatively new and a good start. If they can’t work and the cafeteria is closed they should have something to at least be able to feed themselves.

Many are opposed to paying players. Anyone who’s paying for college knows how expensive it is. The player should take advantage of that education and better himself. That’s payment enough they say.

Plus the fact that not every football and basketball program is flush with cash. Rice does not make as much on athletics as Texas. That’s obvious. Many schools would have to shut down programs to afford payments to the athletes.

How about letting the market dictate who gets paid and who doesn’t? Why can the University of Oklahoma make money off No. 6 jerseys but Baker Mayfield can’t be paid for signing autographs or representing a car dealer in Norman?

One argument says that that would be unfair to  the the volleyball player and the right guard on the football team. They are not as popular as Baker. They couldn’t make the same amount of money. At UConn the women’s basketball players would probably have more endorsements than the football players. Oh well. They deserve it. They’re better at what they do.

If you’re worried about players going to the highest bidder I’ve got news for you. They already are. You only hear about it when they get caught.

Let’s stop the farce that’s happening every day in college athletics. Let’s protect the athlete instead of the pro leagues and the college coaches. Let’s make the NCAA do what it set out to do in 1906; represent the student-athlete.




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